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ISSN 1409-6900 | UDK 82+7     Blesok no. 58 | volume XI | January-February, 2008



                     Peer-reviewed journal
Blesok no. 58January-February, 2008

Weighty truths, lightly

p. 1
Cynthia Haven

In his relaxed, California voice, Berkeley poet Robert Hass melds the historical with the intimate in his most successful collection yet, writes Cynthia Haven in The San Francisco Magazine []

All morality is banal. To write that war is bad, honesty is the best policy, death imminent for us all is to court cliché. It’s all true, but to make it felt? The art of poetry is making the obvious become lovely and new again, coaxing it into memorable speech. Robert Hass’s poems, especially in his long-awaited fifth collection, Time and Materials: Poems 1997–2005, can have just that effect.
    “Art and Life,” for instance, an extended riff on Vermeer’s Woman Pouring Milk, explores art, restoration, light, paint, and rebirth—almost in one long, miraculous breath. Hass, who teaches at UC Berkeley, resists the quick quote or easy quip: the wonder of this remarkable poem is how it quietly circles round and round back into itself over three-plus pages.
    What’s rarer still is the quiet moral authority that speaks through the new poems, the assuredness of a voice that can take on the horrors of war and the huckleberries of Inverness in the same measured way, without hysteria or hyperbole. Each poem resists the obvious showstopper line, instead incorporating slow effects that build momentum over the whole collection, measuring our actions and choices against a backdrop of silence and death. Hass has always attempted to link the historical moment with the intimate, but here the fusion is close to perfect. The voice that speaks through these poems is wiser, more seasoned, more certain of itself and its terrain.
    These poems extend Hass’s lifelong meditation on loss, on memory, on grief and wonder, on the various glitches “through which chance / And terror enter on the world,” as he says in one of the poems, and, increasingly, on what he has called our moral responsibility to history.
    In a sense, such musings began with a personal vision in Hass’s landmark early poem “Meditation at Lagunitas,” with its near epigrammatic opening lines—“All the new thinking is about loss. / In this it resembles all the old thinking”—and gradually embraced the world. In Hass’s relaxed, Californian, thinking-out-loud voice, the poems usually sound like an extended discussion with himself. A voice this unstrident can tackle subject matter that would, in less skilled hands, simply be heavy-handed and tendentious.
    Take “Ezra Pound’s Proposition,” which begins by noting Pound’s contention that, in Hass’s

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